Nutrition? It is PERSONAL. It is PERSONALISED MEDICINE
Covid19 has shown us that food is medicine and that certain foods help protect us against disease. In the pandemic, immune system boosting food was quite simply life-saving with Vitamin K, D, E and C as well as healthy gut microbiota, good sleep, the absence of chronic stress and the ability to have regular exercise providing assistance against Coronavirus. Nutritional inequality in society and a lack of access to healthy nutritious foods have increased the susceptibility of vulnerable groups to the disease. The Coronavirus emphasised the importance of nutrition in health and also showed us how much nutrition varies from person to person and therefore must be personalised. As medicine heads towards a more personalised future, nutritional science follows suit. The future of nutrition is personalised.
Nutrition must be personalised. If food is medicine then think like this, if your mum has a cold and you do not would you both take paracetamol? No! Food is medicine that should be given based upon your own health status. Not everyone should take the same medicine.
Malnutrition is defined as a diet missing vital nutrients. Contrary to public belief, both being severely under and overweight are forms of malnutrition. A diet with too much-processed food and too much highly inflammatory sugar and a lack of fibre, fruit and vegetables, may provide adequate daily “empty” calories but does not include the necessary nutritional mileage to protect an individual from disease. Disease and illness is defined as the absence of health and fighting malnutrition is vital in fighting disease.
Over Coronavirus we saw communities' desperate attempts to protect their immune systems with mass hoarding of food and wealthier communities being more protected against the virus due to their greater ability to access good nutrition. Obesity plays a huge role in increasing susceptibility to the disease, with Boris Johnson himself saying that his Coronavirus symptoms were made worse by his obesity. With restaurants closed (before the pandemic restaurants provided over 25% of the nation's calories) and supermarkets hard to access and food demand increasing, we saw Foodbank usage rise (including the one I have worked at for many years) on one hand and home cooking increasing on the other hand. Good food protected and still protects people from diseases like Coronavirus. As people became more aware of this, trends in certain foods, deemed to “boost the immune system” such as oranges (vitamin C) and avocados (healthy fats and vitamins) soared off the shelves. Tribes of foodies emerged with everyone’s diet varying based on how they were brought up, where they had been, who they hung around with, their level of access to information, their health and their preferences. Food finally was noted as nature's medicine and everyone was trying to get the best medicine to protect themselves and their families against a life-threatening pandemic.
What food we should eat, what food is right and wrong and good and bad is a hugely contentious debate with what makes one person fat making another thin and what makes one person well can actually enhance susceptibility to disease in another person. Each person is unique and this uniqueness comes from both our genes and our epigenetics. Our genes (sections of DNA) are the DNA we got from our parents and grandparents and our epigenetics is how our life has affected our genes. We can manipulate our genes with our environment and behaviour (where we live and what we eat and drink). What we eat impacts our gut microbiota, our Insulin and Glucose profiles, our Cholesterol LDL and HDL levels, our neurotransmitters (sugar increases Dopamine in the brain) and therefore our mood and ability to fight addiction, our sex drive, our fertility, our ability to make and remake bones, our skin and hair, our height and our DNA. As what we have in our DNA affects what we pass on to our offspring, what we eat and drink and how we live, affects not only us and how we look, feel, fight disease and act, but all the characteristics of our children.
If you change your diet you can change your DNA and you can change your character. You can change your personality based on what you eat (as my family knows too well from living with me during my eating disorder). What we eat impacts how we act, how we feel and changes our DNA and so, therefore, affects the physical and mental health of us but also generations to come. Our nutrition, therefore, is everything. It affects us, our health and the health of our children, the future and so it is of utmost importance to get it right.
Alcohol, drugs, caffeine, stress, chemicals like sweeteners, fibre, fat, sugar, vegetables, smoking, antibiotic use, steroid use, pesticides on food, exercise, antidepressants, paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, constipation medication, proteins, restrictive diets, overeating, how much you sleep and how clean you are (hygiene hypothesis), all affect your nutritional status. Our metabolism, hunger and fullness satiety signals, ability to sleep, ability to fight disease and mood are all affected by our diet and therefore, with so many varying factors involved, a “one size fits all” model for nutrition with “x amount daily calories” per person and “good and bad” foods is outdated, dangerous (my own eating disorder was caused in part by poor nutritional advice which nearly killed me) and quite simply ridiculous. In my own eating journey, I have seen through accidental self-experimentation with my diet, as professionals wrote me diet plan after diet plan that came from data from national averages, the importance of getting your diet right. I am a highly active (can’t sit still) person who therefore needs more food than others and so a diet plan I was put on by a Dietician when I was underweight, actually helped me lose weight further as it vastly underestimated the calorie load I needed and led to my heart nearly stopping in 2017. Nutritional mistakes nearly killed me and so I have seen potently through my own experiences the importance of getting it right.
What is healthy for one person is unhealthy for another and we are seeing this in science. Nutritional science is hugely controversial as there is so little evidence out there currently. Any evidence that does arise is often heavily marketed and so often the science gets lost a bit as there is no universal miracle super-food that will help the whole population. One persons’ panacea is another’s poison. Nutrition must be personalised. If food is medicine then think like this, if your mum has a cold and you do not would you both take paracetamol? No! Food is medicine that should be given based upon your own health status. Not everyone should take the same medicine.
Food is medicine and each person’s cure is unique.
I am a scientist. I studied Biomedical Sciences at University and for my final year dissertation, I looked at the human gut microbiota from a research perspective, looking at the gut-brain axis. Since university, I have self-taught and learnt neuroscience, suffered my own poor mental health with anxiety and an eating disorder and in my complex recovery from this, I have studied every textbook on nutrition and neuroscience and psychology and biochemistry and cell biology, physiology and metabolism that I could buy off Amazon. I have tutored university students and so had access to lecture notes from universities all over the world on complex science to do with biomedical sciences and health and well being and if I am not learning, I am not living and so I have printed off everything and taught it to myself and learnt so much. My own health experiences have added to this learning, observing the effects of nutritional statuses, certain foods and certain behaviours on my health. Every day since my illness began, I have kept a complex nutritional diary and I have observed and analysed what I eat, what others eat and how what we eat affects us, and through all this I have learnt so much about nutrition and the holistic (whole-body) affects of it as medicine. I am so excited by the future of nutritional science as I see it as the major factor in mental and physical health protection. We should not wait until people are unwell or in crisis to treat them but look towards an early intervention for mental and physical health diseases. Preventative medicine, personalised to each individual is my dream for me. When I was unwell I met a woman in the hospital who told me to “help people get their love back for themselves” and to “use my energy to fuel a movement.” Instead of using my experiences as excuses for being bitter and angry, I want to use them to help people to get physically and mentally well.
I have an insatiable appetite for change and am hungry to use all my knowledge and experiences to further medical science and in the process help society work towards a personalised, disease-preventing rather than just treating, unique meal plan for each and every person, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or history. Food is medicine and each person’s cure is unique. Let’s personalise it! Let’s get personal!
COPYRIGHT LAURA CAMPBELL 28/06/2020